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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Kindergarten Is the Model for Lifelong Learning

Let's keep teaching creativity throughout school and adulthood.
By Mitchel Resnick
Credit: Wesley Bedrosian

Ever since the first kindergarten opened in 1837, it has been a place for telling stories, building castles, painting pictures, making friends, and learning to share. But kindergarten is undergoing a dramatic change.

In today's kindergartens, children are spending more and more time filling out worksheets and drilling on flash cards. In short, kindergarten is becoming more like the rest of school.

Exactly the opposite needs to happen: We should make the rest of school (indeed, the rest of life) more like kindergarten.

What's so special about kindergarten? As kindergartners playfully create stories, castles, and paintings with one another, they develop and refine their abilities to think creatively and work collaboratively, precisely the abilities most needed to achieve success and satisfaction in the 21st century.

Underlying traditional kindergarten activities is a spiraling learning process in which children imagine what they want to do, create a project based on their ideas (using blocks, finger paint, or other materials), play with their creations, share their ideas and creations with others, and reflect on their experiences -- all of which leads them to imagine new ideas and new projects. This iterative learning process is ideal preparation for today's fast-changing society, in which people must continually come up with innovative solutions to unexpected situations in their lives.

If this approach is so well aligned with current societal needs, why do we so rarely support it in classrooms? One reason is that our society and our educational system don't place enough value on creative thinking.

Another reason is a lack of appropriate media and technologies: Wooden blocks and finger paint are great for learning kindergarten concepts (such as numbers, shapes, sizes, and colors). But as children get older, they want and need to work on more advanced projects and learn more advanced concepts. To do that, they need different types of tools, media, and materials.

This is where I believe digital technologies can play their most important role. If properly designed and used, new technologies can extend the kindergarten approach, allowing "students" of all ages to continue learning in the kindergarten style and, in the process, to keep growing as creative thinkers.

In my research group at the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, we've been developing new technologies specifically to support the kindergarten approach to learning. For example, we've collaborated with the Lego Group since 1985 on a collection of robotics construction kits that enable children to imagine and create interactive inventions in the same spirit as kindergartners build towers with blocks.

Recently, we've developed a new programming language called Scratch, which brings the kindergarten learning approach to the computer screen. With Scratch (available as a free download), children can create their own interactive stories, games, and animations and then share their creations on the Web. A vibrant online community has developed around Scratch, as users present more than a thousand new projects on the Scratch Web site each day. Some 250,000 people participate in the community, most of them ages 8-16.

One active participant in the community is a 13-year-old girl with the name BalaBethany (not her real screen name). As her first Scratch project, BalaBethany created and shared an animated story with anime characters. Other members of the online community responded positively, posting glowing comments under her project. Encouraged, BalaBethany began to create and share new anime stories on a regular basis, like episodes in a television series.

BalaBethany periodically added new characters to her stories. At one point, she got an idea: Why not involve the community in the process? She created and uploaded a new Scratch project that announced a contest: She asked other community members to design a sister for one of the characters. The project received more than 100 comments. One was from a community member who wanted to enter the contest but didn't know how to draw anime characters. So BalaBethany produced another Scratch project: a step-by-step tutorial that demonstrates a 13-stage process for drawing and coloring an anime character.

Credit: Wesley Bedrosian

I see BalaBethany as a case study of lifelong kindergarten. She is using Scratch to imagine, create, play, share, and reflect. In the process, she is refining her programming and artistic skills -- and she's developing as a creative thinker. Our ultimate goal is a world full of playfully creative people who, like BalaBethany, continue to learn as kindergartners do.

Mitchel Resnick is director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab.

Comments (17)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Tara's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed reading this article. I teach kindergarten! It seems as though so much importance is put on taking tests for children these days. I spend so much of my time giving tests to evaluate progress. I love the idea of letting the children explore and create. Sometimes I think they learn more from one another than just listening to me!

I visited the Scratch website! I saved it to my favorites! Thanks for sharing!

Katerina Symiakaki's picture

Lifelong kindergarden is a great idea which could be possibly extended into later life. Would you imagine a creative learning experience for senior citizents?

Katerina
MA Innovation Management

Melissa Dills's picture

What a wonderful article! Our school is moving towards this... We must expect our students to know how to think creatively and be problem solvers. As a kindergarten teacher it was nice to have the validation in your article because there is a lot of pressure to become the 'new first grade.'

Katherine Paul - 17923's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is so right that children learn so much more by role-play ad interacting activities than with worksheets. It would be great if more and more teachers would implement this more in their classrooms and make all school life more like kindergarten.
Great! Loved reading this articles and the postings. Congratulations!
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Judy Mathay's picture
Judy Mathay
retired primary school art teacher, now subbing

Actually, I have thought about this, a creative learning experience for senior citizens (like myself!)For the last five years I taught using the TAB (Teaching for Artisitic Behavior) approach. I absolutely loved it. I taught pre-k through second grade. The children were the artists and I learned so much from them. It was a wonderful way to teach. I often thought about going into nursing homes or senior centers and using the same approach. I think they (I) would love it.

Kerstin Rowe's picture

As I look at Kindergarten options for my daughter to enter next year, I am deeply saddened. It is so true, what you have written.

SO: What can I do? How can I help create the systemic change that is so necessary??

Outdoor Teacher's picture

It is true that so many of the things we need to learn in life we learn in kindergarten. On another note, I cannot say enough positive things about Scratch. It has practically transformed my son's life. He has been diagnosed with Asperger's and has significant social impairments which have lead to some self esteem issues. Scratch has enabled him to experience pride in his own accomplishments and has provided him with a way to connect with other children. MIT really does some excellent work and many of their creations not only help typical students but also their non-nuerotypical peers.

Jen Stewart's picture

As a kindergarten teacher I am very happy to hear that I am trying to do something right. I sometimes feel the pressure to keep working the kids, when really what they should be doing is working through play. It is so important for them. Thanks for a gentle reminder.

Søren Thorborg's picture

Very Good article. I visited Media Lab with the Danish project in April 2002, at I must say it was one of my greatest experiences in the pedagogical and developmental field. Today I am head of the School Department in an municipality west of Copenhagen, and even after these years I often refer to my what I saw at Media Lab and I often quote you. Keep up the good spirit and good luck.

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